ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) Classic Empire's victory by a neck over Not This Time in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile gives him the edge in the debate over the winter favorite for the Kentucky Derby.
The difference between the two leading 2-year-olds right now might just be from the neck up.
''He's extremely smart,'' trainer Mark Casse said when asked about Classic Empire's best attribute. ''He just walks around and just doesn't really care, and that's always nice to have in a Derby horse.''
Sent off as the 9-2 second choice, Classic Empire won for the fourth time in five career starts, with his only loss coming when he threw his rider at the start of the Hopeful Stakes last month. He beat 10 rivals in the $2 million Juvenile over 1 1/16 miles Saturday at Santa Anita.
Not This Time, who'd won his two previous starts by a combined 18 3/4 lengths and was the 5-2 favorite, did nothing Saturday to dash the enthusiasm of his rider, Robby Albarado.
''I'm still high on him,'' he said. ''I think he's an exceptional colt but there's room for improvement. I don't think we've seen the depth of him yet. He's getting better every race. This is only his fourth start, so there's a lot of room there.''
Not This Time still has a lot to learn.
''He's physically talented, looks good,'' Albarado said. ''His mind is the only thing that's behind a little bit. He doesn't really have it down to grind it out yet, which eventually it will come in time. Exceptional colt, I'm looking forward to the spring.''
Last year's Juvenile winner, Nyquist, went on to win the Kentucky Derby in May, becoming the second colt to turn the Juvenile-Derby double in the last 10 years.
Street Sense won the 2006 Juvenile and the Kentucky Derby the next year after a string of 22 horses failed to complete the double.
Ridden by Julien Leparoux and trained by Kentucky-based Mark Casse, Classic Empire ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.60 and paid $11, $5 and $3.80.
Classic Empire has all kinds of connections to Triple Crown success. He was sired by Pioneerof the Nile, who finished second in the 2009 Kentucky Derby and sired last year's Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.
The 2-year-old colt is owned by John Oxley, who owned Monarchos, winner of the 2001 Kentucky Derby as a 10-1 longshot.
''The winter is coming up first, but I love the spring. I love the journey up to the Triple Crown races,'' Oxley said. ''Each one will be a wonderful goal and a wonderful stop we hope. We hope the good fortune lasts.''
Not This Time returned $4.60 and $3.40, while Practical Joke was another 7 1/2 lengths back in third and paid $4.60 to show.
''All week long, Dale Romans (trainer of Not This Time) said we were going to run one-two, him and I,'' Casse said. ''I said, `OK. I'm just glad I was one.'''
Lookin At Lee was fourth, followed by Syndergaard, Three Rules, Gormley, Klimt, Term of Art, Theory and Britain-bred Star Empire.